3 Key Lessons for High Performing Teams from The British & Irish Lions Series 2017
Last Saturday the British & Irish Lions and New Zealand Rugby (All Blacks) teams, could not be separated, after three test matches and 240 minutes of physical intensity. They scored 15 points each to draw the match and the series. When the referee blew his whistle to end the match, no-one cheered. The players froze. They had played each other to a standstill.
After a captivating contest, the two captains lifted the trophy aloft together, in an unusual, almost bizarre spectacle. When the players from both teams then sat amongst each other on the podium, I thought that we were witnessing something much more important than the result of this match and of the series! Asking the “What’s important” question points to these key lessons for business teams.
1 – Meeting or Exceeding Expectations is more important than the Result
Listening to the All Blacks at the end of the match, it was clear that they were preoccupied with one number i.e. the difference between their score and their opponents. There was none!
Their captain, Kieran Read said: “A draw doesn’t mean that much.”
Beauden Barrett, scorer of 10 of the All Black 15 points, was frustrated and wanted the game extended for another 10 minutes so they could win.
Expectations were high for them before and they fell short so you can understand their dejection at the end even though they didn’t lose.
For the Lions, it was a different story. They were the first side in 47 matches to beat New Zealand, World Champions at home, since 2009. At Eden Park in Auckland the venue for the final drawn match, the All Blacks had won every match there over the past 23 years. Whilst they didn’t win the series, they beat the All Blacks at home and by drawing the series the Lions clearly exceeded expectations and arguably achieved a major success. That demonstrates progress and provides learnings, contributing to the development of the players’ ability to achieve sustainable improvement
2 – Leading with a Positive Mental Attitude
Asked about his approach after the final test match, Sam Warburton, The Lions captain said this quote from four times Olympic Champion, Michael Johnson, had inspired him:
“Pressure is nothing more than just the shadow of great opportunity.”
“That’s how I see it.” said Warburton. “Don’t be afraid of what you could lose. Be excited about what you could achieve. You’ve got to be brave, take chances and make things happen. When you get in the real big games, you don’t want occasions to blur for the players.”
As a leader, adopting this attitude, Warburton helped create the conditions where the players focused on what was important and could perform with freedom and instinct, Their performances speak for themselves.
3 – Its Reputation that really matters
I said earlier that at the end of the final test match, watching the players from both teams sat together in a mixed group, that we were witnessing something much more important than the result of the match or indeed the series. In addition to representing 5 great rugby playing nations, the players were representing the physically intense Sport of Rugby played within a spirit of mutual respect.
Why is this important?
To thrive in sport, in business or any other walk of life, teams must consistently meet or exceed the expectations of their stakeholders. That’s what a team’s reputation is based on.
How well did the British and Irish Lions meet the expectations of these stakeholders?
The Wider Rugby Community
The players, officials and supporters of all rugby clubs, large and small across the world. They play a key role in communities, bringing people together and providing personal and physical development opportunities for young people within that spirit of mutual respect. The players’ role modelled this with their commitment on the field and their engagement with the fans throughout the series. This was powerfully symbolised by the players together on the podium after such an intensely combative contest.
The Lions Board
As with business, meeting the expectations of the Board can be the biggest challenge. This Board includes representatives of the governing bodies of English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh rugby. Some of the clubs, concerned about risk of injury and impact on players’ after a long season, have been pushing for tours to be shortened which could make them less viable.
Willie John McBride, a star of the last Lions side to win a series in New Zealand summed up the impact of Lion’s performance on future tours:
” A lot of people had written them off because they didn’t really have enough time to put the team together. They have done a remarkable job. I think that this has, in many ways, saved the Lions.”
Why is this important?
The Lions Rugby Team is a great example of how you can bring fierce rivals together, in a short space of time, create a shared sense of purpose and deliver high performance. At a time when we are seeing so much division in the world, the Lions stand out as exemplars of creating a high performing team from diversity. The lions managers and coaches achieved this in a very short time. This is increasingly valuable in a business where teams now are continually forming and reforming in a dynamic business environment.
Sam Warburton, Lions Captain sums it up:
“Speaking on behalf of the players, we’d always want the Lions to happen. I am sure most players would say the Lions is the most special thing you’ll do in your international career. I think it’s a must the Lions should continue”
This unique experience at the highest level provides tremendous development for players themselves and benefits the clubs they play for when they return. Even the manager himself, Warren Gatland had his reputation strengthened and is now being talked about as a future All Black’s Coach.
The Travelling Fans
The tours provide an experience of a lifetime. Half of the 45, 000 fans at Eden Park, a venue for the final test, were estimated to be Lions fans. The quality of the team’s performance will sustain interest and motivation for fans to make the considerable financial and time commitment to future tours contributing to its commercial viability and the local economy of the host nations.
The TV Companies
The matches on the tour were compelling tv viewing and broke records for non-soccer televised events. This will strengthen interest in televising the sport in the future, providing more funding.
Lessons for Business Teams – Summary
The British & Irish Lions tour performance powerfully demonstrates the importance of taking both a long and short-term view of a team’s performance.
In business, at the end of a deal negotiation, at the end of the month, quarter or year, don’t get preoccupied with the immediate result no matter how good or bad it is
Stand back, look at the big picture and evaluate:
– How well did we perform against expectations?
– How did we strengthen our reputation?
– How can we learn from our mistakes?
– How can we build on progress, to strengthen our reputation as a team to deliver sustainable results?